Gadir was just back from work and was about to have dinner. His wife Nazi carried on an old tray bearing piti, vegetables and bread, set it down before her husband on the creaking table under the vine bower and muttered:
— I did everything I could to get my child into music school. Her teachers say she is very good, but if Goncha doesn’t have a good kamancha she won’t get anywhere. Allah gave me a useless husband. I can’t find the damned five hundred dollars to buy the late Maestro Yusifs kamancha for her. Yusifs son is not his father’s boy at all. How greedy can a man be! If lie asked just a little less. I’d borrow some money and not leave the poor girl heartbroken.
Gadir swallowed the first mouthful and said:
— Don’t start again, woman, let me cat my damned food! What’s all this I… I… I..? First of all, it wasn’t you who gave her an education. I’ve done all the hard work. Secondly, I will work to buy her that kamancha or die in the attempt. What can I do if Maestro Yusifs son has set a sky-high price?
Nazi was not to be put off:
— If we wait until you earn enough money, we won’t get that kamancha this year.
It wasn’t easy, as a rule, to rile Gadir:
— You’re talking complete nonsense, woman! You don’t know what you are talking about! Everybody knows that Gadir’s family is planning to buy the late Maestro Yusifs kamancha. Be patient! Have I ever let you down? You’ll see that Allah will send us some fool buyer and things will turn out alright.
Those were Gadir’s words. He was a shoemaker and had worked in the market for many years. Everybody knew him for his wit. However many jokes he cracked, lie would never smile himself. This short, skinny guy was naturally funny in word and action. Just seeing him was like being tickled. But his wife Nazi was a very impatient woman. Still, she boiled with anger:
— You are just like easy-going Ahmad. You don’t care about the rest of the world. Other women’s husbands are resourceful. But you hammer nails and patch up from morning till night you’re not expanding.
— Why are you talking like this? — Gadir answered through a mouthfull of food — even if I’m not expanding, you’re certainly making up for it. You weighed barely forty kilos when we got married, but now you’re over ninety.
This made Nazi even more furious:
— You’re as thoughtless as ever. You go to parties every other week. You are the great clown. The only thing you’re good at is i racking jokes and making people laugh all day.
— But I can’t make you laugh, Nazi. That means I’m not as good a clown as you say I am.
Just then Bashir’s taxi, an old jalopy of a Lada, turned into the yard. Bashir stuck his head out of the window, shouted «Hi!» and added:
— Gadir, Ferman has come from Moscow. They are sitting in Gaya with the gang. He sent me to get you.
Ferman was one of Gadir’s friends. Their childhood and youth had been spent in each other’s company, he had opened a shop in Moscow a couple of years before, selling shoes and making really good money. He would return to his motherland every two or three years, have a change of climate for five or ten days and then go back. He would never leave without meeting Gadir and sharing a few jokes with him.
Gadir did not finish his dinner, but stood up. Nazi knew Ferman quite well and knew that she wasn’t going to change her husband’s mind, but still she had to show she heared:
— Hey man, don’t leave in the middle of your dinner, finish it!
Gadir replied as he got in the car:
— Give the piti to the dog, woman. Let everyone know that Gadir is no ordinary man, that even his dog eats fresh piti!
This was said for Bashir’s benefit. Gadir knew that Bashir would soon spread his words round the whole city.
Bashir’s Lada rattled away to Gaya restaurant at the end of the city.
Ferman was sitting with friends at a table in the meadow, in the shade of the huge plane tree. He called to Gadir as he was getting out of the Lada:
— Hey, come over here, you old bugger. I’ve kept you a place near me.
There actually was an empty chair near Ferman. When the old friends met, they hugged and kissed each other with a smack. The giant Ferman, who looked like Cyclops, lifted Gadir, who was just a little taller than a midget, and then put him back down like a child.
As soon as Gadir sat down, Ferman quickly did likewise:
— Hey, pimp, what was that telegraph that you sent me when my mother-in-law died?! — He said and pulled the telegraph from his shirt pocket. — Hey guys, look how this one (points to Gadir) expresses his sympathies, I’ll read: «Ferman, when a man loses one manat, it’s enough to make him burn up. It’s no joke to lose a woman like your mother-in-law. I can understand your great grief. I send my condolences! Gadir»
Everyone laughed, but Gadir’s face moved not a muscle. When the food arrived, Ferman said:
— Gadir, I hear that you want to buy the late Maestro Yusifs kamancha for your daughter?
— You mean the news has reached Moscow, too?
— When our guys heard about this in Moscow, they wanted to collect money to send to you. But I didn’t let them.
— You old bastard!
Everyone laughed again.
— How much do they want for the kamancha?
— Five hundred dollars!
— So expensive!
— They say that that kamancha will not be acquired very easily.
— How much money do you have?
— If you like, you can earn the money right now.
Gadir thought that Ferman was fooling with him. So he answered.
— Has the sole of your shoe come off? I only have one nail on me.
They all understood his meaning and laughed. Ferman muttered:
— I swear I’m not joking, I’m serious. If you drink with us tonight, you’ll get what you need. A hundred dollars for every hundred grams of vodka!
— You know that I never drink, that’s why you’re making the offer.
Gadir’s body did not tolerate alcohol. Everybody there knew that he never drank vodka or wine. Once when somebody had tried to make him drink vodka, he had said: «Brother, you shouldn’t mind whether I drink or not. I can act drunk as much as you like.»
— If you want the fish, you have to get your tail get wet, — Ferman said, filling a hundred gram glass with vodka, pulling out a hundred dollar bill and slamming it on the table with a great slap, — you drink this hundred grams with us and put this hundred dollar bill in your pocket. Plus, we will drink to your health.
— Why do you want to make me drink?
— I want you to drink and get drunk. I want to see what you’re like when you’re drunk.
— If I had a lot of money, I would make you crow.
The laughter continued. Ferman pickcd up the hundred dollar bill and toyed with it in the air:
— Don’t make me put this back in my pocket.
Gadir thought to himself: «I don’t smoke or drink. I am completely healthy. What can happen if I drink a hundred or two grams of vodka? And if something does happen, so be it. Mow long will I Iced myself for the angel of death?»
All attention was fixed on Gadir. He grabbed the shot glass and seemed to be gathering his strength. The glasses clashed. Even as everyone else drank, Gadir hesitated. Somebody said:
— You shouldn’t let the vodka go cold. Gadir, Drink!
As if he’d been waiting for those words, Gadir drank the shot, made a sour face and bit into the pickle that Ferman was holding out to him.
Everybody applauded. Gadir felt better and put the hundred dollar bill in his pocket.
Ferman pulled out a second hundred dollar bill and slammed it down on the table, just like the first time. Then he asked for the shots to be refilled. Once the vodka had been replaced, he taunted Gadir from all sides:
— Gadir, make a toast, the hundred dollar bill is waiting for you.
— Gadir, if I was given a hundred dollars, I would drink the whole bottle in one go.
Gadir said «Hmm» and stood up. He went on:
— Hey guys, the only one who can get me going, is me. I am drinking this shot — he was holding it in his hands — to the health of that hundred dollar note, which is precious for each of you.
The sound of clashing glasses mixed with the laughter. Gadir emptied his shot and put it down on the table. Although he was offered a snack, he didn’t take it. He even pushed aside the water glass. He grabbed the second hundred dollar bill and stuck it in his pocket like the first one.
Ferman pulled out the third hundred dollar bill and held it up. By his calculations, the third shot should put Gadir down. This meant that the fun part was still to come. This time Gadir did not wait for a loast to be proposed or for the others to drink. He took the full shot, drank it down and grabbed the third hundred dollar bill from Ferman’s hands. After putting it into his pocket, Gadir became speechless. His vision blurred. It seemed that the vodka was slowly taking effect on lhis poor man.
No matter how many comments Ferman and the guys around him made, it was as if they hit Gadir’s outer skin and bounced back. Gadir’s shot was filled for the fourth time. The fourth hundred dollar bill appeared in Ferman’s hands. Ferman slapped Gadir on the back and said:
— You are a hero, Gadir, alcoholics of forty years’ standing couldn’t match you in drinking.
Gadir grabbed the money from between his friend’s fingers and poked it into his pocket, holding it very tightly, as if the money could break. His hands were not obeying him well. Once he was sure that the money was in his pocket, he took the shot and poured the vodka down his throat slowly, like slow motion in the movies. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not put the glass back to its place and he dropped it. It hit something hard on the ground and shattered into a thousand pieces. Again there was laughter. Everybody apart from (Gadir was having fun. Gadir’s face fell. Someone said:
Gadir, tells us a funny story! Gadir gave the others a woozy look and said with great effort:
— You’re all…
Was all he could say, then he gathered his strength and came out with a very gross expression to complete his statement.
Ah! This obscenity really pleased Ferman. His had achieved his goal. The fun with Gadir was beginning. But Gadir was swaying on his chair. He couldn’t keep his balance whatever he tried. One of the men in the group was trying to get him to speak:
— Gadir, how did you describe being at a funeral in Russian on the mobile phone? (once Gadir had given Russian this information by saying: «I am in a dead place» and everybody had heard him. After that, every city joker had had fun at his expense).
Gadir’s eyes were closing and his head was rolling very badly. He was dreaming that his daughter was playing a sorrowful Segah’ on Maestro Yusifs kamancha that his wife had stopped wittering, and with folded arms he was listening to his one and only child playing.
In fact somebody was playing a Segah in the restaurant yard. The musician was pleasing the customers.
Gadir was so touched that tears rolled down from his eyes. Because everyone’s attention was fixed on him, they all realized that he was crying.
— Hey, stupid, this is how we make a man cry! For thirty years you have made fun of everybody in the city and you mock whoever comes across you. Now I am going to tie such a bucket to your tail that you will hear its clanging for the rest of your life.
Although Gadir could hear Ferman’s voice, he couldn’t make out the words. He was thinking about the kamancha. His daughter had sweet fingers. She could play passages on the kamancha that made Gadir’s heart stop. Everyone said that she had a great future. But Gadir was well aware that he was not strong enough to build such a future for his daughter. And this was probably the reason for his tears now.
Ferman gripped Gadir by the shoulders and shook him:
— Gadir, — he shouted — wake up! It’s not bed time! We can’t drink vodka without you.
Gadir opened his eyes. Although there was nothing funny about it, everybody laughed boisterously. Nobody had ever seen him like this. His shot glass was filled again. Ferman was making some toast. Whatever he said, everybody apart from Gadir laughed. Then Ferman clashed Gadir’s glass with the others and made his friend, who had his arms round him, drink. Gadir closed his eyes again. This time Ferman pushed the fifth hundred dollar bill into Gadir’s pocket himself. It was as if this last bill threw Gadir off balance. He swayed and fell to the ground. This also seemed funny to the gang of friends. Even though they lifted him up and splashed water onto his face and neck, it didn’t help. They laid the drunken man on the grass to sleep it off. But Gadir did not wake up until evening. Almost everyone in the restaurant I’.udcn came in twos and threes to look at «lazy bones» Gadir (even the city’s dogs knew him) and leave.
After sunset, under Ferman’s supervision, they put Gadir, who was sleeping like an ogre, into Bashir’s Lada and solemnly ordered him to lake the sleeper back to his wife.
Bashir drove to Gadir’s yard. He got out and called Nazi:
— Hey, sister Nazi! Hey, sister Nazi!
Nazi and her daughter came out and Bashir said with a grin:
— Sister Nazi, your husband has drunk a little and got drunk. I’ve brought him home.
Nazi uncoiled and began yelling:
— Ay! Cover his head in ashes! As if all our problems were over that’s all we needed!
Gadir’s daughter rushed to the car, followed by her mother. Bashir helped them to carry Gadir to the veranda of the platform house. After making Gadir comfortable, Bashir got back in his car and left.
Nazi turned to her daughter and said:
— Look my girl, see how your thoughtless father carries on?! I am dying of shame for our good-name, but this lucky man has endless fun.
There was no point in talking or making a noise, Gadir was sound asleep and heard nothing. Nazi brought cold water in a bucket and dabbed her husband’s face with her fingers, but her husband did not move. The mother and the daughter sat by the man of the house till midnight. Sometimes Nazi laughed like a madwoman from anger:
— This heartless man is sleeping like a cat that got the cream.
After her daughter had fallen asleep, the woman bustled around, angry and obdurate, but eventually she too became tired and fell asleep. Early in the morning, Nazi woke up again and stood bolt upright. She suddenly had a bad feeling and checked her husband’s breathing. Gadir was breathing evenly. She became furious again and shook her husband violently. After a while Gadir opened his eyes and stretched, Nazi started:
— Why don’t you just die? Don’t you feel ashamed in front of people? Is it right to be an alcoholic at your age? I’d like to be measuring your midget body for its coffin! Do you want to disgrace us?
As Nazi was wittering on, Gadir shook his head and smiled slyly. His wife’s eyes bulged with anger. Goncha had also been woken by her mother’s voice and came in to them. When Nazi saw her she raged even more:
— Ay girl, do you see this shameless man? Showing his teeth as if he has done something good.
Gadir stood up and said:
— Don’t get in such a state, woman! I wasn’t drinking for nothing last night. You don’t like me. You don’t know what kind of man stands under my hat! Even my drinking vodka makes money.
Nazi understood none of this and just stared at him. Gadir pulled the money from his trouser pocket and continued:
— Ferman made me drink because he wanted to see me drunk and he gave memory than enough money for that. Congratulations! Maestro Yusifs kamancha will be ours today!
Nazi took the money and turned to Goncha:
— It’s noon already, my girl. Make tea for your father, he has to go to work.
Translator: Saadat Ibragimova
1 - Kamancha - a traditional bowed stringed instrument, played upright. 2 - Piti- A soup of mutton and vegetables served in an individual ceramic pot, sometimes separated into two courses, liquid (soup) and solid (mashed meat and vegetables) 3 - Segah-One of the inodes of traditional rnugham music.